Carnival in Italy takes place in the weeks leading up to Easter. The origin of the word Carnival comes from Latin, ‘carnem levare’, which means to eliminate the meat. As a matter of fact, the Carnival is part of the Catholic tradition as a time of celebration before Lent, a period of fasting and abstinence awaiting Easter where, above all, in the past it avoided eating meat.
Think of Carnival in Italy as a big final party before Ash Wednesday and the restrictions of Lent. Although Carnival is actually one date, the celebrations and parties may begin a couple of weeks before. In Italy there is not just one Carnival. Every city has its own ancient traditions and different ways of celebrating it. They go from the organization of parades, carts to fancy dress parties, musical or magic shows and more.
Here are 5 reasons why Carnival is a great period to visit Italy.
- Party everywhere and for every taste. Ivrea (Piedmont region) has a unique carnival celebration with medieval roots. The carnival includes a colorful parade followed by orange-throwing battles in the center of town. In Venice, events and entertainment are held nightly throughout the town with people in costumes wandering around the city and reveling. Most high-end hotels hold masked balls. There are gondola and boat parades along the Grand Canal, a mask parade in Piazza San Marco and much more. Viareggio on the Tuscany coast has one of the biggest celebrations in Italy. It is known for its giant, allegorical papier machè floats used in parades, not only on Shrove Tuesday but also the three Sundays before and two weekends following. In Putignano (Apulia) the town explodes with masks and papier-mache floats that parade the city streets in all their colorful magnificence. In Sardinia, horse rides and parrillas.
- Italian traditions. Discover new Italians facets and traditions you would have never thought about. The Carnival of Ivrea (Piedmont): the origins of the orange battle come from the story of a young peasant girl named Violetta, who rebuffed the advances of a ruling tyrant in either the 12th or 13th century. She decapitated him and chaos ensued, with other villagers eventually burning the castle where he lived. During the present-day reenactment, one girl is chosen to play the role of Violetta, and dozens of aranceri (orange-throwers) representing both the tyrant and the peasants throw oranges at each other. The oranges are meant to represent stones and other ancient weapons. The Venice Carnival origins are to be found in two ancient traditions: the Latin Saturnalia and the Greek Dionysian cults – major religious festivals involving the use of masks and symbolic representations. In the Saturnalia of ancient Rome the social order was overturned and slaves and free citizens poured into the city to celebrate with music and wild dancing; in the Greek Dionysia processions and plays were intended to unite the human being with nature in a superior harmony, free of social conventions established by man. The Carnival of Viareggio was born in 1873 when there was the first parade of festively decorated carriages in the historic Via Regia, the heart of the old town. The Carnival of Putignano (Apulia) is the oldest in Europe: its origins date back to 1394. It boasts the longest Carnival of them all, beginning December 26th (St. Stephen’s Day) and ending on Mardi Gras with an evening parade and, finally, the “funeral” of Carnival. Upon St. Stephen relics’ arrival in Putignano, the peasants, who were involved in planting vines, abandoned their vineyards to follow the procession. And once the religious ceremony had concluded, the people celebrated with festive song and dance. The Sardinian Carnival celebrates the pastoral rite of cattle breeding and the perennial struggle of man against nature. That’s why Sardinian masks are so dark and scary.
- Carnival Masks. Learn the most famous Carnival masks and how to make them.
- Carnival Desserts. If Carnival is fun, then carnival cooking can only be cheerful, festive and sweet.
For the most part, Carnival desserts in Italy are fried, simple and made of few but fat and tasty ingredients. As per masks and traditions, each Italian region has its traditions and favorite desserts. Just to name a few: cenci, frittelle, ciambelle, schiacciata alla fiorentina.
- The best time to ski. If you are a ski-lover, Carnival is one of the best times to come to Italy and ski. Usually the snow is not lacking, the days are no longer excessively cold and the sun sets a little bit later. Many are the ski resorts celebrating Carnival. In Courmayeur (Val d’Aosta) there is a masks parade and a final dance; in Madonna di Campiglio (Trentino Alto Adige) relieves the Habsburg Carnival with beautiful masks and evening gowns.